Pittsburgh Penguins: A Look Back at 2014

6 of 6

5. Pens trade James Neal

Oct 9, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left winger James Neal (18) during the first period against the Ottawa Senators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest event of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2014 was the team’s decision to trade All-Star winger James Neal at the draft.

Upon coming over to Pittsburgh in a deal from Dallas (Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski) in 2o11, Neal became an immediate hit. It wasn’t just that the Pens seemed to have struck gold with an unbelievably lopsided trade, it was Neal’s immediate chemistry with centre Evgeni Malkin that made it all so cheery.

With Crosby and Kunitz lighting it up on the first line, and Malkin and Neal doing the same on the second, Pittsburgh seemed to be in fine shape moving forward. When Crosby went down with a myriad of serious injuries, it was Malkin and Neal who helped carry the team, putting together a stunning offensive season that saw the two combine for 90 goals (50 for Geno and 40 for Neal).

The Pens seemed so pleased with Neal that they locked him up to the tune of a 6-year, $30 million contract, seemingly inducting him into their core.

However, after a slew of unfortunate decisions that resulted in suspensions and fines, as well as a shift towards playing on the perimeter, Pittsburgh decided they needed to move the high-flying winger and go back to basics.

They needed to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty again, and they found that blue-collar style of play in Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist. Thus the deal was made – Neal to Nashville, Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburgh.

Despite the initial hesitation, the deal has turned out fairly well for both clubs. Hornqvist has been a hit for the Pens, playing alongside both Crosby and Malkin at times, and recording 13 goals and 29 points in 33 games thus far.

Neal has become a key part of a reborn offense in Nashville, posting 11 goals and 21 points in 33 games, while the Preds currently sit in 3rd place in a tough Western Conference.

It was certainly a bold move at the time, and one many Pens fans probably took issue with, but the move has served both teams well up to this point.